Apr 20, 2022 - Energy & Environment

America's endangered rivers

Data: American Rivers; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Americans' water supply now increasingly reflects the daily reality of a worsening climate crisis.

Why it matters: Many of America's cities and farms rely on water supplies whose future availability can't be guaranteed.

The big picture: The entire Colorado River has been named the most endangered river in the country for the first time since 2013, Axios Denver co-author John Frank reports.

  • More than 40 million people in seven states and 30 tribal nations rely on the Colorado for drinking water, according to a report by American Rivers, an environmental advocacy group.
  • Its waters irrigate 15% of the America's farmland and produce 90% of its winter vegetables, according to Ceres, a sustainable investment advocacy group.
  • "There is no other river in the nation that is as at risk right now when it comes to climate change," Amy Souers Kober, a spokesperson for American Rivers, the group that published the report, said.

State of play: Rising temperatures and increasing droughts, coupled with outdated river management, threaten the river.

  • "We're still operating the Colorado River as if there's abundant water in the river," Kober said.
  • By 2050, experts say the river's flow will fall 10-30% because of climate change.

Other endangered rivers include:

The Snake River in the Pacific Northwest is nearly devoid of salmons, which Indigenous people and other community members in the region have long relied on.

The Mobile River in Alabama — third on the group's list — is threatened by coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal for electricity.

  • The river is threatened by toxins from nearby power plants that are seeping into the groundwater, the group wrote.

And the Coosa River, which also runs through Alabama, is endangered by the threat of pollution from industrial poultry farms.

The bottom line: "All life on this planet depends on clean, flowing rivers, so when rivers are at risk we must sound the alarm," Tom Kiernan, President of American Rivers, said in a statement.

  • "On the Colorado River and nationwide, the climate crisis is a water crisis."

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